Vijayawada

In search of a decent, final resting place

With spurt in population of Christians in the port town, cemeteries are proving inadequate, and the community is seeking govt. help

A sharp increase in the population of Christians in this ancient port town has led to a piquant situation with families finding it tough to find a place to bury their dead.

Humongous growth

According to the 2011 census, the total number of Christians in the town was 7,060, which has grown almost five-fold to nearly 35,000.

Since the early 1800s, the town has two cemeteries: the 15-acre one in the St. Mary’s Church (now under the Church of South India) and another in the Bandarkota area under the RCM (Roman Catholic Mission).

Dust to dust, but...

Members of at least a dozen major churches under the CSI and RCM have their dedicated cemeteries. But nearly 70 other churches - each with at least 200 believers - do not have a cemetery to bury their beloved.

"For thousands of Christian families in Machilipatnam, death is no more a painful event, compared to our struggle to find a place to lay to rest our beloved. We have buried about 300 people in the last two years, wherever we found place at the moment. Many, especially orphans, are being buried in faraway places with the consent of the locals," former Municipal Ward Councillor B. Thomas Noble told The Hindu. Mr. Noble has been repeatedly urging successive governments to grant land for cemeteries for the community.

For members only

Eight years ago, the CSI passed a resolution not to allow non-members to bury their dead in the St. Mary’s cemetery, putting an end to a six-decade practice. Known as "South India’s Taj Mahal," the church was built by Major General John Peter in memory of his love, Arabella Robinson in the 1800s.

"The CSI had to take the decision given the acute scarcity of space," Cemetery Chaplain and Vicar (CSI) C.L. Jasper said.

Booking in advance

Ironically, dozens of families under the CSI have reserved a piece of land in the St. Mary’s Church by paying ₹4,500 or more per person. In the case of the RCM cemetery in Bandarkota, a major portion of the site is in the clutches of encroachers.

"Thousands of Christian families are unable to guarantee a respectful last journey for their dead. Social tensions within the Church groups and other walks of religious life may arise in coming years if the government fails to swing into action," senior Journalist Johnson Jakob apprehended.

Local put legal hurdles

Since 2016, the Christian community has been given two sites for developing cemeteries. "Both the sites are being challenged by locals in courts. A feeling has developed that the government of the day has betrayed us," said Mr. Noble. Further, "The locals did not allow us to use the two sites - the two-acre one in Bandarkota area and 63 cents in the ward 42 - for which a legal battle is on," he added.

Mr. Noble argues that the Machilipatnam Municipal Corporation or the State Minority Corporation could offer a piece of land for

a cemetery. In response, the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led government has promised to purchase 10 acres to be developed into a Christian cemetery.

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2020 12:44:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Vijayawada/in-search-of-a-decent-final-resting-place/article28871669.ece

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